The Art of Giving Feedback
I would rather go through 1,000 rounds of client feedback on the way to groundbreaking work than spend my time on something easy and run-of-the-mill. I think most agency creatives feel the same way.
Feedback is a tough topic. It literally means noise – unwanted sound. But part of helping clients is hearing from them. And great creative thinkers really do want to help their clients.
Here’s the challenge: creative people crave positive reinforcement. It’s only natural. We want the gold star on our paper. We want our drawing up on the fridge. We hope to hear that we’re doing something right, however small it is, in order to move forward. We want to know we’re solving the problem in the most interesting and inspiring way.
Happier, more empowered creatives will fight harder for their clients, and for the work. So – and this is a question for everyone, not just clients – if you’re in the position to give feedback on work that isn’t quite right (or work that’s completely, utterly wrong), what’s the best way to move forward without discouraging the creative who made it?
Think of feedback as a conversation.
Once, an interviewer at ihaveanidea asked Lee Clow, chairman and global director of TBWA\Worldwide, whether it’s true that only “mean” creative directors win awards. Clow responded, “I don’t think it’s constructive to just say ‘this is shit, better show me something better by tomorrow morning’…Even if my overall gut reaction is ‘God, this is really weak stuff,’ I can usually find the one little piece that has an opportunity and say, ‘If you did this, and then did that, and then took this and expanded out from there, this is the best opportunity I see in this room.’”
As a general guideline, the more willing clients or creative leaders are to identify opportunity, and the more question marks (real or implied) they put in their feedback, the better.
When feedback is a series of questions instead of commands, it’s an acknowledgement that the work was made with intention. We’re acknowledging that the words and the design aren’t arbitrary, but the result of a series of strategic decisions. This creates a solid foundation for creative collaboration.
It isn’t about sugarcoating the truth or giving false praise. It’s about uncovering the thinking beneath a flat image or copy doc. Only then are we able to identify what’s going right – and there’s always something right – in order to offer encouragement and a path forward.
In return, it’s the recipient’s job to acknowledge that the feedback isn’t arbitrary either. People give feedback because they have faith in the person who made the work, and faith that the right idea is within reach.
There’s a shortcut to making all this happen, and agencies and clients can both take the initiative: let’s talk. Let’s send fewer emails, and have more conversations with more questions. Let’s do it over coffee or lunch. It’s the best way to remind ourselves that the work we’re making together is about real people: the clients, the creatives and, ultimately, the customers.